Opinion

The CP Edit: School millage a no-brainer

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We’ll cut right to the chase. We’re big supporters of the Lansing School District’s bond proposal that aims to invest nearly $130 million in another major round of modernizing the district’s aging facilities. The “Zero Mill Increase” proposal will appear on the Tuesday, May 3, ballot in the city of Lansing, parts of East Lansing and neighboring townships that fall within the school district’s boundaries.

If voters approve the millage, as we hope they will, the proceeds will finance the construction of four new buildings to replace the district’s most seriously outdated elementary schools: Mt. Hope STEAM Magnet School, Willow Elementary, Lewton School and Sheridan Road STEM Magnet School — the oldest of which was built more than 70 years ago.

The district’s plan also makes significant investments in J.W. Sexton High School on the city’s west side, including upgrades to the auditorium, new ceilings and window coverings, improvements to athletic facilities and refreshing the learning environment. New systems to improve air quality and ensuring that every classroom has working air conditioning are also part of the program.

There are myriad reasons supporting the millage proposal is a good idea. Let’s review a few of them.

First and foremost, the proposal doesn’t raise anyone’s taxes. It simply reups the LSD’s existing education facilities millage, which the district previously used to finance the construction of the new Eastern High School and make significant improvements to Everett High School.

Every public institution eventually arrives at the need to renew its facilities. We’ve seen the consequences of decades of neglect of Michigan’s transportation infrastructure. When infrastructure crumbles, the failure of the systems that depend on it is just a matter of time. That’s why it’s time to invest in modern educational infrastructure that will serve Lansing students for generations to come.

We know that the long-term prosperity of our city is inextricably tied to the quality of education in its schools and, just as important, the perception of that quality. There is a proven connection between the perception of high-quality schools and a region’s ability to attract business investment, which creates jobs, increases property values and enhances our community’s quality of life. The success of Lansing neighborhoods depends on people choosing to live in them, and that decision is often informed by the perceived quality of neighborhood schools.

Consider the 1,000+ new jobs on the way to GM’s $2.5 billion battery plant in Delta Township. Where will its workers want to live? Most will be looking for a community with quality housing, safe neighborhoods and good schools. Let’s give them a good reason to choose Lansing.

Significant progress in elevating the academic success of LSD students also is a good reason to invest in better facilities. Student achievement may still rank in the bottom half of districts statewide, but LSD graduation rates have improved from just 54% to nearly 70% over the past five years. This remarkable success should be recognized, celebrated and rewarded with complementary investments in the district’s facilities.

Investing in a going concern that shows progress and potential is always a smart move. Let’s give the district’s capable new superintendent, Ben Shuldiner, and our teachers the tools they need to provide Lansing students with the best we can afford to give them.

There is no doubt that schools of choice threw a wrench into urban education. As if white flight in the 1960s and 1970s didn’t do enough damage, schools of choice drained urban districts of both student talent and financial resources. Reversing the drain means continually raising LSD’s game in order to narrow the margin between the perceived quality of Lansing schools compared to Holt or Haslett or East Lansing. A vote for the bond proposal is a vote to take tangible steps toward reducing the still yawning disparities between Lansing schools and suburban districts. It’s an investment in equity.

Approving the millage renewal won’t solve the underlying challenges of economic stress on LSD students and their families. It won’t erase the damage caused by the pandemic. It won’t, on its own, close the achievement gap. But every worthwhile endeavor starts with a foundation and the bond proposal is a critical building block for the educational enterprise that will serve the needs of Lansing children for the next 50 years.

Within the broad success story of our nation’s long-standing commitment to universal education are still too many examples of falling short, of inequitable distribution of resources, and of underinvestment in the single most powerful tool we can use to lift up young people and give them the best possible shot at success. We have a chance to do better in our own backyard. Let’s seize the opportunity.

It’s time to change the narrative about Lansing schools and that starts with believing in them and investing in them. State Rep. Sarah Anthony, who cochairs the millage campaign, said this one is a “hands-down, no-brainer.”

We concur. Vote yes on Tuesday, May 3. Learn more about the ballot proposal at yestolansingschools.com.

HOW TO VOTE

Register to vote by absentee ballot online or by mail by April 18 and then return a completed ballot by May 3. Voters can also register and vote in person on Election Day. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Absentee ballots returned within two weeks prior to Election Day should be hand delivered to avoid potential delays. Visit lansingvotes.com or michigan.gov/vote for more information.

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